Ely, MN – July 4, 2012
My favorite part of the Ely 4th of July parade wasn’t the synchronized lawn chair performance team or the drum-heavy clown band, though both were inspired. It wasn’t the Viking yelling at children before tossing them candy or the outfitter who strapped five canoes to the top of a hatchback. No, it was the Ely citizens marching to protect the Boundary Waters against mining and all the boos and cheers that went with them.
It’s a tough issue for Ely. Mining companies swear to anyone and on anything that they can operate safely. They say it won’t leak into the water. They say they’ll bring jobs and money. Signs of support cover lawns across town. Even Ely’s mayor is for it, happy to gamble one of nature’s last gems on the word of a mining company.
Mining built a lot of Minnesota’s history. The Iron Range produced most of the country’s iron ore by the 1900s and continues to fuel America’s factories to this day. The roots and culture run deep underground. Generations of miners live here, but sulfide mining is different. This isn’t iron ore that rusts in the rain. When water hits sulfide waste, it turns to sulfuric acid that has a long history of leaking into and destroying water systems, even as mining companies promise it won’t.
So I watched the Ely citizens walk and thought about how water flows out here from one lake to the next, how it’s all connected. I thought about kids in their canoes, paddling to cliffs and jumping off into the clear blue water of Minnesota’s lakes. I thought about companies making promises, about BP with their blown rig and how they scrambled like Pandora to close the box. I thought about the way I felt watching oil color my childhood beaches black.
Boos rang out from the crowd and I wondered if any of them could see past tomorrow.
“Jump now, kids,” I thought. “Jump now before all you have left are pictures of the way it used to be.”
Want to know more about mining near the Boundary Waters and what you can do to protect our water? See the Friends of the Boundary Waters Website.